America is known as much for its promise of personal liberty as much as it is for its excesses. This is not a coincidence, and doing everything "big" is a tenet of American culture. But Japan, with its smaller but more dedicated populace, quietly out-bigs America in some surprising ways.
There's nothing more American than truckers plying the open road, loading their pockets full of methamphetamenes before mounting their chromed beasts of burden for a trek across the land. Truly, truckers are the cowboys of our day. Yet Japan, a country smaller than California, is even more truck-struck, with a culture devoted to pimping out one's vehicle in an outlandish competition to create the ostentatiously ornamented trucks.
It's known as the art of dekotora (decorated truck), and lest you think the Japanese pointlessly extravagant, they're doing it for a good reason: they saw it on TV. Ridiculous truck fever swept Japan in the mid-to-late 70s, thanks to a phenomenon of the silver screen known as Torakku Yarō, which roughly translates to "crazy truck bastards."
Released between 1975-79, the ten movie series follow the truck-racing, fist-fighting, hard-loving cross-country adventures of protagonist Momojiro "Ichibanboshi" Hoshi and his prodigally decorated truck.
Dekotora is so popular that you might have already seen it without realizing it, since many of the flamboyant rigs can be seen in the backgrounds of multiple Street Fighter games.
To be like "Ichi," Japanese truckers spend upwards of $100,000, or about the cost of the trucks themselves, striving to outdo one another. They affix their mechanical steeds with lights, lasers, hints of precious metals, and decals of giant fighting robots. And thanks to the addition tassels, Louis Vuitton prints, and chandeliers, some of them sort of look like strip clubs.
All it's missing is a curtain made entirely of gold beads. Get on that, Japan.
Life was simple in the 1950s, the golden period of Americana when cigarettes were healthy and an infectious new style known as rock 'n' roll transmogrified the western genre. With new tunes came greaser culture, with its propensity for leather apparel and superfluous hair slick.But it lives on in Japan, and every Sunday at Yoyogi Park, in Tokyo's Harajuku District, Americana-obsessed nostalgics gather to don mid-20th-century finery and rock Atomic Age dance moves. They're known as rockabillies and the men dress like Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli -- and they act like it too. Rocking outrageous pompadours, these megafans can also be seen chainsmoking and wielding combs in their back pockets. The women rock poodle skirts and slightly smaller pompadours, and most importantly, everyone looks cool as hell.
The Tokyo Rockabilly Club is several decades old, but the trend owes its existence to World War II. Japanese soldiers enjoyed the simple, country-tinged tunes that accompanied the invading force, and American music gained a foothold in Japanese popular culture.
In the late '50s rockabilly established itself as an Eastern pre-punk movement, much to the chagrin of Japanese traditionalists. Rockabilly singers inspired Japan's first musical groupies, who, maybe due to mistranslation, pelted the performers with stolen toilet paper. Authorities quashed the trend in the 60s, for fear of musical and social rebellion, but like the proverbial phoenix it rose from the ashes to bring sexy back to Japan.
Pets are better pampered than humans in some developing countries, and luxuries for pooches and kitties range from the stupidly extravagant to the stupidly stupid. In Japan, the ridiculous love for cat and dog has spawned a specialty pet beverage industry. If you thought Evian was pretentious, the makers of Pocari Sweat (an electrolyte-infused sports drink) created the equally-disgustingly named Pet Sweat, which is calcium-enriched bottled water. For dogs. Yeah.
For doting ailurophiles, Japanese pet product merchant B&H Lifes produced a limited stock of "wine" for cats, Nyan Nyan Noveau, in response to the dearth of cat novelties on the market. The 1,000-bottle exclusive edition is a full-bodied red, made from Cabernet grapes. In place of alcohol, it has an infusion of catnip, sure to please the 10% of cats that will actually consume it, according to pre-release taste-testing.
You can buy the dog version, also from B&H Lifes, in the form of a bottle of sparkling wan wan (woof woof) "wine" for a mere $49. Unlike Nyan Nyan Nouveau, the dog wine contains no psychoactive ingredients or mind-altering substances, but it is chardonnay grape flavored and full of vitamin C to keep your best friend in fine health.
American culinary science is constantly tip-toeing the moral boundary of "we can but should we?" and the answer is always yes, leading to the world's biggest burgers, most ridiculous flavors, and a record number of Big & Talls. But Japan outdoes the US yet again. In the land of the rising sun, pancakes, for example, are made to physics-defying specifications at The Gram pancakery in Tennōji. Gram's "premium pancakes" are sweet little clouds, puffed up to a sexual level of fluffiness with the addition of meringue. And at West Aoyama Garden, you can buy an even fatter, though less poofy pancake the size of a toilet seat. Another revered provision, the hot dog, alongside its brother corn dog, is an iconic American treat. Ikea of Japan bastardized this noblest of junk foods with their version, the ninja dog. It sounds good but it looks, at best, horrible and, at worst, like poison. The bun and dog are both made black by the addition of charcoal, which supposedly confers a detoxifying effect, so there's that.
Burger King has flirted with similar creations in the past, including burgers with bamboo charcoal-blackened cheese and squid ink-blackened sauce, which coats the burger like vomit. The Ninja Burger is further equipped with a fat slice of bacon to imitate a wagging tongue.
Speaking of which, if you think you like bacon, screw you, you don't know bacon, says Japan's WILD bacon sandwich, boasting an ungodly meat-to-bread ratio. If sheer, ventricle-busting size is what you're after, Japan's national burger joint Lotteria offers five-patty towers, available in beef or shrimp patty. For their 40th anniversary they sold 'em at the discounted price of approximately $6. Sadly, they look less like food in actuality.
If you're eating lighter, the Pizza Little Party chain offers the Mega Pizza Burger, which is, well, a mega pizza burger.
Finally, chips. Stateside, new flavors grace us once per blue moon, but Japan is less like a country and more like Doritos a conveyor belt. Gourmet selections, rotated quarterly, feature only the most creative flavored powders, like coconut curry, anchovy and garlic, Camembert, honey and caramel sweet versions.
Even the art is nicer, compared to the bleak, featureless background on American packaging -- even though it's an accurate visual representation of what your soul feels like after eating an entire bag.
American politicians are prone to wacky indiscretions, but Japanese politicians are just as quick to shameless exploitation of national icons, for example. To hype the 2020 Olympics, a troupe of mayors are donning ninja garb of questionable historical authenticity and forming the "ninja council," which will stage ninja-related activities throughout Japan. Elsewhere, to snag the catbird seat as Mikawa region representative, former Japanese Parliament member Satoshi Shima is enlisting the help of Nippon's most mystically revered idol, the feline, prognosticator of favor and fortune. Generally, election posters feature candidates' half-smiling in front of a blank background, but Shima's pamphlets star an immaculately groomed, heterochromatic white cat. Shima hopes his "money cats" will delight residents and boost Mikawa District pride.
Like Americans, Japanese voters are equally likely just to vote for whoever, according to the 2,828 votes cast for "Skull Reaper A-ji," a string of words that does not instantly register as the name of a human being. The second odd thing you'll notice is that Skull Reaper A-ji is a Lucha Libre wrestler from the neck up.
Unfortunately, he's barred from meetings due to the council's heavy anti-Rey Mysterio slant. Reaper's intent, however, is noble - he says the facelessness offered by the mask makes him easy to approach. Meltdowns are also better in Japan. On June 30th the prefectural representative from Hyōgo, Ryutaro Nonomura, a was accused of pilfering from political coffers. The luxuriant and memeable Nonomura had misappropriated over ¥15 million ($135,000) over a three-year span, writing much of it off as travel expenses, as well as a baffling ¥2 million (or $18,000) in stamps alone. The man presumably had many pen pals. For damage control, Nonomura held a press conference on July 1st. It starts alright, but soon enough Nonomura unleashes the waterworks and breaks down to a self-deprecating weep. The internet immediately descended, and Weeping Nonomura instantly became a meme.
To be fair, Nonomura did pay back the debt after the fact. Which is probably the least American thing he could have done.